Let me 'fess up at the beginning: this is not really a forgotten book. It was published in 2005 and was recommended by Locus Magazine as one of the best books of that year. Since it was published by Nonstop Press (not really a major publisher) and concerns an artist few people have heard of, I figured I could sneak it in here.
Confession number two: I haven't read the book. I just got the book this morning and have spent most of that time going over the artwork, then going over the artwork again, then a third time...well, you get the idea. I will get to the text this weekend, I promise; but, oh, the art...
Lee Brown Coye is best known for his work in the horror field: Weird Tales, Arkham House, Fantastic, Whispers, etc. His style in that field is often cartoonish, outlandish, and disquieting. Somehow, the art always fit whatever story it was depicting. Often his ink and scratchboard art featured sticks -- joined together in odd ways or separately -- a thin (sometimes lop-sided) crescent moon and old Victorian houses. The author and editor Karl Edward Wagner, a personal friend of Coye's, used the stick motif as a basis for one of his best stories, aptly and simply titled "Sticks". Coye himself was known to spin an interesting tale about his fascination with the topic -- much of which was incorporated into Wagner's tale.
Coye, of course, worked in other areas. He had a Thomas Hart Benton-like approach to many of his oil paintings, often depicting a rural, central-New York sensibility. His spot art could have easily fit into The New Yorker today. He worked in murals, in models, in jewely, in sculpture, in diorama. He designed book and magazine covers, letterheads, and business cards. Constantly exploring, constantly experimenting, he deserves much wider recognition. Unfortunately, much of his artwork has been lost, destroyed, or damaged; in his one-paragraph preface (yes, I read that much of the text), author Luis Ortiz mentioned that some 1930s murals "may still exist under four or five coats of house paint" in a school auditorium.
This is a fantastic book, a thing of beauty. Luis Ortiz also produced another great book about another great artist, Emshwiller: Infinity x Two, also highly recommended. I'll get to that one soon, but for now, I'm going back to savor Coye's artwork.
Patti Abbott is taking the week off, but blog buddy Evan Lewis is acting as Guest Host for Friday's Forgotten Books over at davycrockettsalmanack.blogspot.com. Check it out for other forgotten books. While you're there, be sure to congratulate Evan for recently winning the Mystery Writer's of America's Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for his short story "Skyler Hobbs and the Rabbit Man".